Political change hasn't changed
People question the relevance of Macbeth, not only in respect to the difference in time, but also as a work of fiction depicting real life. The belief that Shakespeare's views as expressed in Macbeth cannot be applied to humanity today is often backed up by the argument that the world has changed. I was taught about women's rights and the divine right of kings if I hadn't been I probably wouldn't have discovered them myself simply by looking at modern culture. Women today are no longer bound by the strict set of rules placed on them in the Elizabethan era, they enjoy near equality in regards to gender, are involved more centrally in power, and are found in more diverse positions of power. Unlike Macbeth, murderers are not forsaken by God, but we are taught that God forgives all, and our justice system is based on rehabilitation through punishment, not just punishment. In a democracy containing a diverse number of religions, and where choice of leaders is the basis, the divine right of kings no longer holds any weight. However, we are able to relate to the play not only because we have been taught its history, but because parallels can still be seen today. Gender inequality is still prevalent, and if someone ordered a mass-murder, many of us would doubt they would have a place in heaven. But just how relevant today are the play's views on politics?
The structure of the play in regards to political change is fairly simple. It begins with a good man, loved and honoured by all, as the rightful king to the throne. Macbeth then kills Duncan, specifically to become king. Shakespeare uses the bizarre supernatural events as a sign that this action is a crime against nature, and that God is angry. Macbeth, although securing the crown through lineage, (he is Duncan's cousin), is not seen as the rightful king, because of Duncan's unnatural death. During his reign, Macbeth is often referred to as tyrant' and under his rule there is only chaos. He capriciously murders those he believes are a threat, offering no real justice. As the personification of tyranny, he must be overcome by Malcolm so that Scotland can once more have a rightful King, and order can be restored, showing that God is happy again. This is of course the invited reading designed to please the newly-ascended and recently-defended rightful King James I. It is a powerful warning to the God-fearing public of his time, intended to warn against any thought of revolt. Simply put, if you go against the King, you will be punished by God and by your fellow man. This is the notion of the divine right of kings.
But if we no longer believe in the great chain of being, why is Shakespeare's Macbeth so convincing? This is the question that I asked myself, because although the play's scope on political change is fairly narrow, it is reasonably congruent. It is interesting to note that there are a few comparisons to be made between events in the play, and events that have occurred during and near our lifetime. I will try to delve deeper into the actions surrounding government in Macbeth.
In the beginning of the play, King Duncan performs the two basic duties of a good king: punishing the bad and rewarding the good. Once he learns about the betrayal of Cawdor and the bravery of Macbeth, he says, "No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive / Our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death, / And with his former title greet Macbeth" (Act1.Sc2.63-65). The phrase "bosom interest" means "vital interests," but "bosom" suggests that a relationship of love should exist between a king and his subject. Act one is intended to set up the rightness of Duncan and of the established government, however, he is too trusting, and this is what brings about his downfall.
Macbeth is a brave general who is not inclined to perform evil deeds, and although he desires power and advancement, we come to believe that it is his desire to prove...